By Dave Leaderhouse
The Nipawin Hawks will be looking for a better return this weekend when they make their second swing through southeastern Saskatchewan in a two-week span.
Two weeks ago the Hawks headed south riding an impressive stretch where they had collected at least one point in eight straight games and continued that torrid run with a 2-1 decision in Estevan against the Bruins to open the gruelling trip.
Then the wheels fell off somewhat as Nipawin fell 3-1 in Weyburn and 2-1 in Notre Dame, but they did get a measure of revenge last weekend when those same two clubs visited the Cage with the Hawks outscoring the Hounds 4-2 and the Red Wings 4-1.
Now, for the third straight weekend, the Hawks will be playing their southern counterparts beginning with a stop in Weyburn on Friday followed by a date with the Hounds in Notre Dame on Saturday and concluding with the lone Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League match on Sunday in Estevan against the Bruins.
Nipawin enters the weekend with a 10-3-1-1 record and finds themselves five points back of the Melfort Mustangs for top spot in the Sherwood Division standings. The Hawks, however, have four games in hand on the Mustangs and with Melfort being idle this weekend they can close the gap considerably and even find themselves in first place should they sweep through the southern part of the province.
When Nipawin made the trek south two weeks ago all three of their opponents were also red-hot at the time, but since then all three have cooled off considerably with Estevan having just one win in their last four outings while Notre Dame is winless in its last three and Weyburn has gone two straight without a victory. For the Red Wings, Friday’s game is a quick stop at home as they just returned from playing five on the road and will head back out for four more beginning on Saturday when they visit the Millionaires in Melville.
Those Millionaires will also host the Humboldt Broncos on Friday with both teams having collected points in their last three games. The Millionaires are a distant third in the Viterra Division behind Weyburn and Estevan while Humboldt continues to keep pace with the Battlefords North Stars in the tight Olympic Buildings Division race. The Broncos are one point back of the North Stars – and one clear of Notre Dame – but the Battlefords have five games in hand and they will be looking to make amends for their lone regulation-time loss earlier this week with a return match against the Klippers on Saturday. Kindersley surprised the North Stars 4-1 on Tuesday to halt the Battlefords’s 10-0-1-1 start to the season.
The only other games this weekend have the Yorkton Terriers travelling to La Ronge to play the Ice Wolves on Friday and Saturday. For the Terriers it will be the start of new era as head coach and general manager Casey O’Brien was relieved of his duties earlier this week with assistant coach Matt Hehr stepping in to lead the team on an interim basis.
The Terriers have lost three straight entering this weekend and have the second worst record overall, ahead of just La Ronge with the Ice Wolves having just one win in their last 10 outings. La Ronge’s last game was called early when a power outage that affected most of north-central Saskatchewan forced the game to be postponed with Notre Dame leading 4-3. That game will be completed in January the next time the Hounds visit the Mel Hegland Arena.
The Flin Flon Bombers join Melfort on the sidelines this weekend with those teams having played a home-and-home set earlier in the week. Flin Flon won the opener 2-1 on Wednesday before Melfort gained the split with a 4-3 decision on Thursday.
SJHL NOTES – Zach Goberis’s huge lead atop the individual scoring race has been trimmed to just three points with the Battlefords’ Layne Young closing the gap on the Estevan sniper with eight points in the last week. Young has collected at least one point in each of the North Stars first 13 games this season, averaging more than two points per outing…The top four defensive teams – Melfort, Nipawin, Weyburn and the Battlefords – also have the top goaltenders in the league with Hawks’ rookie Jake Anthony posting a 1.95 goals-against average followed by Carter Phair of the Red Wings at 1.98, Evan Plotnik of the Mustangs at 2.14, Declan Hobbs of Nipawin at 2.15 and the North Stars’ tandem of Taryn Kotchorek and Kolby Matthews at 2.34 and 2.35, respectively. Plotnik’s numbers are even more impressive considering he has played in almost twice as many games as the others while Phair has a save percentage of .942 that is far ahead of the rest of the top six…Young’s 29 points in 13 games isn’t the only impressive current consecutive-games streak going as Weyburn’s Cole Woodliffe has 16 points in his last 10 games. Humboldt’s Logan Schatz also has a six-game run going where he has picked up 10 points in that span…Estevan continues to be the most explosive team offensively and their power play has been a big reason for that operating at a 26 per cent efficiency rate. When breaking down the power play records of all the teams there is one stat that jumps right off the page and that is despite leading the Viterra Division, the Weyburn Red Wings have only scored four times with the man advantage in 43 opportunities on home ice. That is a 9.3 per cent rating. On the road they are much better having capitalized on 14 of 46 opportunities for a 30.8 per cent rating…The Humboldt Broncos have played 18 games this year, but it must seem like more than that as seven of those games have needed extra time to decide the outcome. The Broncos, fortunately, have used that extra time to their advantage having won twice in overtime and three more times in a shootout. The Battlefords have also done well when being extended beyond regulation time as they have three overtime wins and a shootout victory to go with just one overtime loss…Just La Ronge and Yorkton have losing records on home ice with the Battlefords leading the way being the only team not to have suffered a regulation-time loss in nine appearances in front of their own fans. On the road it is much tighter as it is an even split with six posting winning records away from the friendly confines and the other six below the break-even benchmark. Melfort, Weyburn and Nipawin have the most road wins at five apiece.
Nipawin at Weyburn
Yorkton at La Ronge
Humboldt at Melville
Yorkton at La Ronge
Nipawin at Notre Dame
Weyburn at Melville
Battlefords at Kindersley
Nipawin at Estevan